There have been many stories in the news lately about the rising cost of prescription drugs in the U.S. The latest study shows that one group of drugs in particular, dermatology drugs, have seen costs rise dramatically in the past few years.
The study, published Wednesday in the journal JAMA Dermatology, comes from Miranda Rosenberg, a third year medical student at the University of Pennsylvania and Steve Rosenberg, a dermatologist teaching at the University of Miami. For the study, the researchers examined the prices of nineteen different prescription dermatology products between the years 2009 and 2015. The prices were taken from large, national chain pharmacies, specifically CVS, Walgreens, Costco, and Sam’s Club.
When the researchers crunched the numbers, they found the drug prices had increased an average of 401 percent in just five years. In comparison, the national consumer price index inflation rate in that time period was just 11 percent.
While topical cancer-related drugs saw the biggest price increase, at 1,240 percent, psoriasis drugs saw the lowest increase, at 180 percent. Seven drugs examined in the study more than quadrupled in price in less than five years.
Some dermatology drugs in the study had their prices rise more dramatically than others. At the more expensive end, Targretin gel had its price rise from $1,687 in 2009 to $30,320 in 2015. Targretin gel treats cutaneous T-cell lymphoma (CTLC), a type of skin cancer. Another drug, Retin-A Micro, saw a 413 percent price increase. That particular drug is used to treat acne, which may not seem like a serious illness, but acne can cause anxiety as well as skin irritation for those with more serious cases. Both of those drugs come from Valeant Pharmaceuticals, a Canadian drug company that often buys rights to drugs then raises the prices.
Pharmaceutical companies often justify the rising costs of prescription drugs by citing inflation, rising costs of ingredients, and ongoing research and development. However, critics argue that those rising expenses are far out of proportion with the increase in drug prices to the consumer. Many drugs that have seen huge price increases lately have been available for ten years or more.
Drug prices tend to be higher in the U.S. than other countries because the government does not put restrictions on prices, or negotiate prices, like some other countries do. In addition, some drugs lack competition, so the maker of one drug can raise their prices without having to worry about consumers choosing a generic version. This often occurs when a drug maker extends its patent, effectively blocking other companies from selling a generic version. With mergers and acquisitions, some drug companies corner the market on a specific group of drugs, controlling their prices with a monopoly.
The rising costs of prescription drugs may be making it more difficult for patients to pay for their needed medication. Some patients resort to not filling prescriptions when faced with the choice between buying prescription drugs and buying groceries or paying the electric bill. A study in 2014 found that of Americans aged 19 to 64, nineteen percent said they skipped filling a prescription because of the high cost. Still others fill their prescriptions at an online Canadian pharmacy where the prices are lower. While many have health insurance, some insurance plans are refusing to cover the cost of some drugs, leaving patients to pay more out of their own pocket. Even if a drug is covered, patients often end up spending more as their insurance premiums increase to cover the rising costs of drugs in the country.
Of health care costs in the U.S., over nine percent of the spending is on prescription drugs. While some patients have insurance, about 18 percent of that spending is out of pocket.